Association of Defective Regulation of Autoreactive Interleukin-6-Producing Transitional B Lymphocytes With Disease in Patients With Systemic Sclerosis.
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OBJECTIVE: Systemic sclerosis (SSc) has the highest case-specific mortality of any rheumatic disease, and no effective therapy is available. A clear manifestation of SSc is the presence of autoantibodies. However, the origin of autoantibody-producing B lymphocytes, their mechanisms of activation and autoantibody production, and their role remain unclear. This study was undertaken to identify mechanisms that contribute to pathogenic B cell generation and involvement in SSc and to assess the altered distribution and function of B cells in SSc patients. METHODS: Multicolor flow cytometry was performed to determine B cell subset distribution, cytokine production, and tolerance induction in SSc patients and healthy controls. Cytokine production following stimulation of the cells ex vivo was determined by multiplex assay. RESULTS: A range of defects in B lymphocyte tolerance and cytokine production in SSc were noted. There was evidence of altered distribution of transitional B cell subsets, increased production of interleukin-6 (IL-6) and IL-8, and defective tolerance induction in SSc B cells. In addition, B cells from SSc patients had a reduced ability to produce IL-10 when stimulated through innate immune pathways. In contrast to healthy individuals, tolerance checkpoints in SSc patients failed to suppress the emergence of B cells that produce autoantibodies with specificity to the Scl-70 antigen, which is strongly associated with SSc. These defects were paralleled by altered intracellular signaling and apoptosis following B cell receptor engagement. CONCLUSION: Our findings provide new insights into mechanisms underlying defective B lymphocyte responses in patients with SSc and their contribution to disease.